Archive | December, 2012

Best Science Images from 2012 (this will take you a while)

20 Dec

Caffeine Crystal, credit Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images

My grandpa used to own a camera shop. Although I didn’t get a chance to meet him before he passed away, I grew up surrounded by photographers – and that might explain why I have a special connection to images and videos (or why I can hardly remember people’s names but can recall images I have seen – at least that’s my excuse :P).

So, what could be better than wrapping up the year by checking out some stunning science images from 2012? (warning – you might need a whole afternoon to go through my list below)

Start with:

Nature News Images of The Year

A great general collection of 11 images. Nature‘s favourite images of the year. A good intro before moving on to other collections.

Don’t miss the following:

Wellcome Image Award 2012 – Get Closer to Science

16 amazing images, from cancer cells in motion, caffeine crystals, to open heart surgery; images are coupled with background information, interesting scientific facts, and how the images were chosen. This would also be a great site for educational purposes. Even better, images on the site are under Creative Commons License (I am impressed!), so you can re-use the images following their terms of use. (by the way, the featured image for this post is the caffeine crystals)

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun (NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun (NASA/GSFC/SDO)

Best Astronomy Images of 2012, Slate Magazine

Chosen by Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy), one of the most popular science bloggers. Astronomy images are really, really cool…

Nikon Small World Competition 2012 – Top 20 Images 

Images taken through the light microscope. We cannot see it with our bare eyes, but there is an amazing world right around us.

Science Magazine The Year in Science Pictures 2012

A collection of weekly images posted by Science through ScienceShots. These images were chosen because the images are sometimes the stories themselves. Each image comes with a short description (actually, many of them have very interesting research stories).

The Royal Observatory Greenwich Astronomer Photographer of The Year

I mentioned this in an earlier post in October. You can also view a video produced by BBC, with voice over by Chris Lintott and Olivia Johnson.

And if you have more time…

Popular Science 13 Stunning Photos from The Wildlife Photographer of The Year Competition

Australian Geographic Eureka Award – Best Science Photos of 2012

UK Natural History Museum Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Scientist 3rd Annual Labby Award – Best Images and Videos in Life Science

An Interesting Night – Reflections about Science, Us, and The Society

15 Dec

Dec15FeaturedImageI had an interesting night yesterday.

It was not until 5pm that I heard about the school shooting in Connecticut. I was shocked, sad, and eventually left without words. To a point that I almost bailed on the other plans I had for the night – first heading to the Science of Poetry / the Poetry of Science event organized by my Banff Science Communications Program classmate Aileen, and then to a friend’s Christmas Party.

I am glad that I pushed on.

Science and poetry collided and meshed into something that truly resonates – the exchange between a cancer survivor with a cancer researcher, the vivid imagery of scientific experiments perceived, the desperation to maintain dreams and hopes on the never-ending path of academia. It was truly inspirational.

While I was waiting for the bus to head to the Christmas party, a man on a wheelchair asked me whether the bus is still coming, so I checked for him and assured him that the bus will be arriving in 14 minutes. In 14 minutes he shared what he went through in the past few days with me. He and his partner got into an accident and he had both knees operated on. He worked through the day completing invoices for a company to earn some money (he’s educated, by the way, because after knowing that I work at UBC he asked whether I know this law professor that he used to study under, likely through one of UBC’s inner city programs) . He spent the money on medications for his partner who was sick, a pack of cigarettes, and a calling card so that his partner could finally call up her son in Northern BC before Christmas – only later to lose the calling card while he was wheeling his way to the bus stop. He and his partner were so close to securing a single-bedroom low-income housing, except the owner refused to rent the apartment to them because the credit check was not completed in time (even though they had a notarized statement from a BC organization to confirm that they would be able to pay rent). So they now lived in a homeless shelter, 10 days before Christmas.

Yet he was extremely hopeful. He told me that his relative in Quebec should be able to send some money over to help out in the next few days. And, only because of all these challenges, that he and his partner had grown much, much closer.

When I arrived at the Christmas party the gift exchange had started. The room was saturated with happiness, togetherness, and much warmth among everyone. And even though I didn’t stay much longer and had missed much of the night, it amazed me that somehow everyone seemed connected, as if by simply entering the room you became part of this family.

And that was my night.

Perhaps it is the analytical or the logical nature of scientists that we sometimes forget we are human beings. There were many times that I worked on and forgot whether the last meal I had was a lunch or a dinner, and forgot why I kept going. And while I am not a researcher anymore, I am acutely aware of how many of my friends and colleagues spent countless hours in research, sometimes frustrated, exhausted, tired.

But then once in a while you have a night like this, and you are reminded that you can feel so much, and that there is much, much more to be done, and that our personal problems, in the scope of things, are so little compared to what we can do to bring more to this society. And it is a night like this that I know that I must keep going, like I did earlier last night, because you never know what you will find.

And it is a night like this that reminds me we cannot give up.

Postscript: If you are interested in reading more about the human side of science, about science and the society, see Artem Kaznatcheev’s post “Where is this empathy that we are so proud of” and Maggie Koerth-Baker’s post “What science says about gun control and violent crime.”

Lack of Women in Physical Sciences- It Is Not a Choice If They Don’t See The Options

6 Dec Dec6FeaturedImage

Two weekends ago I read an editorial by Margaret Wente published in the Globe and Mail. The article titled “Gender parity trumps excellence in science?” was a response to a recent report “Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension.” The report by the Council of Canadian Academies was commissioned due to the lack of female researchers in the 2008 Canada Excellence Research Chair program.

I appreciate many points raised by Margaret. I agree that government policies are often very short-sighted and include not much else other than “handouts” that actually could contribute to prejudice against female students or scientists (handouts are ridiculous – I would like to think that I received my scholarships and grants because I was capable of producing high quality research, not because as a data point I made the government look better). Often times discussions regarding gender issues within physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics (PCEM) involve only women, although this is slowly changing. On a less but somewhat relevant note, I have also seen female business executives making sexist jokes against their male counterparts – exactly the kind of behaviours that we women condemn when they are done by men.

But to say that there is no problem with the lack of women in PCEM is rather ignorant. In her article, Margaret says that

Nowhere is there a hint that one reason more women aren’t entering these fields is that maybe they don’t want to.

Is that the explanation we are going to use to stay status quo? Do we truly think that we have done what we can, and this lack of females in physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics is not because young girls lack role models or mentors in these fields, not because they lack the confidence to head into them, not because they don’t see  them as options? Does it make any sense if we apply this same rationale to other issues in education, such as the relatively low participation rate in higher education for students from low income families? This reasoning does not work for me in any contexts.

Don’t get me wrong. I approve of doing more to recruit young women into science. I love it when girls take the prize at science fairs. Today, women get 24 per cent of all the PhDs awarded in the physical sciences, computers, engineering and math. Academically, they do just as well as men and often better. That’s great. Or is it? Should we aim for nothing less than 50-50? By the way, should we do the same for kindergarten teachers?

If 50-50 is not the magic number, then what makes 24% the one? And, why don’t we discuss the benefits of having males take up career paths traditionally considered by females – I have male friends who are nurses and daycare teachers and they enjoy their jobs. Or, is that also something that we should consider as “that’s just the way it is?”

Margaret’s article reminded me of the following video

Most of us, both males and females, are brought up a certain way and are expected to follow certain social norms. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a household where I was told that I could be who I wanted to become, and my toy bin was a clear demonstration of it: Lego bricks, Barbie dolls, Voltron robots, and a doctor’s kit (I admit that I was a tad spoiled :P). My upbringing in the end influenced the confidence I have in myself, my ability to hold my ground when I am challenged by someone (either male or female), and my eventual decision to go into science. But even with that I wish I had mentors in physical sciences or computer science – I likely would have gone into physics or computer science instead, if I had the chance to explore my options better.

My point is, it is not a choice if they don’t see the options.

There is an issue with the lack of females in physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics. There is a desperate need for longitudinal data regarding female scientists in these fields so that we can assess the situation better (see postscript). At the same time, we should keep in mind that males are also subjected to gender pressures. Perhaps it is time that we involve everyone, male or female, in the discussion of gender roles and start looking at long term resolutions to make our society more competitive as a whole.

Postscript: This problem was pointed out by the committee in the report mentioned earlier in this post. I once worked on a grant proposal and had difficulty myself finding such data for Canada.

The Pokeymans Project [Link]

3 Dec
The Pokeymans Project

The Pokeymans Project

I usually share links on my page. However, this one I have to share here because this reminds me how I named my blog.

I read about the Pokeymans Project through Dave Ng’s blog Popperfont (which by the way is awesome, people should check it out). Noelle Stevenson, who knows nothing about Pokémons, will draw them based on the descriptions given to her by readers. Noelle is also the one behind the web comic NiMONA.

Anyways, what do Pokémons have to do with me and this blog?

I was really, really surprised by the number of people I know (particularly graduate students) who can recall the names the 1st Generation Pokémons (okay, cannot blame them, because I also watched a lot of Pokémons animations myself, but I simply cannot remember any of their names). So when I was thinking about a name for my blog, looking for something that people can relate to, something that I can relate to…

Then comes the name “Science, I Choose You,” because I would choose “science” as my Pokémon to face this immensely massive, totally challenging, yet amazingly beautiful world, together. Better yet, even without the Pokémon reference this name still makes total sense (Ha!).

Anyways, just a little piece about where the name of this blog came from.

How Stick Figure Comics Can Contribute to Discussions of Serious Research Issues

1 Dec December 1 2012 Featured Image

I admit that I owe completing my MSc partly to online comic strips. Every morning, I would arrive in my office, go through my routine comics (PHD Comics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, xkcd, The Oatmeal), and then have enough courage to face all the lab work and piles of data. Often times, they go beyond just humour to address serious issues in science and education, and provide educational substance. PHD Comics talks about the lives of graduate students and the research done by labs visited by the author. SMBC touches on many subjects – science, research, education, sex, God, and the meaning of life. The Oatmeal raised millions for building a Tesla museum (although mostly the Oatmeal is less about science but still really fun to read). xkcd disseminates lots of scientific content through its comics (static, interactive, or infographic style); there is even a script allowing you to draw graphs and charts in “xkcd” style (this is sooooo cool! Oh jeez I am nerdy).

But, the next case brings the contribution of xkcd-style stick figure comics to serious science discussions a whole other level.

In the November 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science (which, by the way, is a legit journal and ranked among the top 10 journals in the field according to Wikipedia), the following figure was published within the article  The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell. The article was written by Neuroskeptic (the writer’s blogging pseudonym – this is a first, as explained by io9):

From the article: The nine circles of scientific hell (with apologies to Dante and xkcd)

From the article: The nine circles of scientific hell (with apologies to Dante and xkcd). Neuroskeptic Perspectives on Psychological Science 2012;7:643-644

I was pretty surprised. I mean, a stick figure comic in a serious scientific journal? This is rather unconventional. While the comic is pretty funny, is this the right place for it?

I started reading other articles within the issue, and realized what the point is. In fact, one of the focuses of this issue is the replicability in psychological science – fraud cases, public mockery, selective data reporting, lack of data sharing and reproducibility.

The editor wrote,

Those readers who need further motivation to change their research practices are referred to the illustration provided by Neuroskeptic (2012).

Then I got it. Instead of simply saying “this is bad”, using the sarcastic stick figure comic seems to be much more “in your face”. And this definitely captured much, much more attention than an 1000-word essay about this serious issue in research.

There are many ways to communicate science, or issues in science. While writing thousands of words can fill the pages, sometimes pictures and analogies are worth more than words. And my hope is that I won’t forget this in the future when I talk about science and research…

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